Paul has finished chapter three with telling his readers that
they are, if Christ's, children of Abraham, and an heir to the
promise given to Abraham. He goes on in chapter four to REMIND
them that they all were (we - verse 3) - Jews and Gentiles at one
time in "bondage" when under the rudiments, way of living in the
world, before they were converted to Christ. But it was god's
full plan and intention that He would send forth He who became
known as "the only begotten from the Father" - the Son of God,
Jesus Christ. It was the plan of God that HE, His Son, should be
the redeemer of mankind. to redeem them from being under the
curse of the law, as Paul put it earlier in his letter.
He is reminding them of things to taught them when he was among
them preaching and teaching the word and truths of God. He is
telling them once more in different terms that justification was
NEVER planned to be anything other than through the redeeming
power of God's Son. Redemption then was NEVER to be by people
working and earning it through obedience to LAW of any kind, not
even as large and as broad as the Old Covenant made with Israel
at Mount Sinai.
He reminds them that they became God's sons and that by so being,
the Almighty had sent His Spirit to them, that literally did make
them His children, and they could have the wonderful blessing of
calling him, FATHER! And with that also came the fact that they
were heirs of the Father through Christ. (verses 1-7).
Now it was expedient at this point in his letter to correct
another grave error and mistake that many of the GENTILES in
Galatia had fallen back into. Notice verse 8 goes to "you" - not
so much now as "we" (verse 3) but to the you of the Gentiles who
had not known God. He tells them that they had before coming to
God through Christ, been serving false gods. The Gentiles had
MANY gods in their religion and daily lives, a god for this time
and a god for that time, gods over many aspects of their lives).
Then they came to KNOW the true God, Paul reminds them. But what
had he heard? He had heard that many of them were TURNING BACK
AGAIN (and the Greek for "again" KJV, does mean "back to again" -
"at first again" - "again anew") to the weak and beggarly
elements that they are AGAIN turning to observe.
These weak and beggarly elements CANNOT be the great laws and
festivals of God. First the Gentiles did NOT observe God's holy
days, seasons of festivals, land Sabbaths, weekly Sabbath, years
of Jubilee. They could not be TURNING AGAIN to observances that
they never observed in the first place. Second, as Paul said to
them, they were "turning again" BACK to observances that would
put them in bondage, as he said earlier, put them under the CURSE
of the law. They would be committing sin, and by some falling for
the teaching of these false circumcision guys, the whole scene of
far too many people in Galatia, was a real MESS!
Many of the Gentiles were again going back to the false customs
of the world, observing false days like Sunday, Easter, and
whatever other days were set aside in whatever months, years and
times of seasons, that the Gentile calendar proclaimed (verses 8-
Paul goes on to tell them he is VERY CONCERNED for their eternal
salvation (verse 11). He reminds them that when he was with them,
they LOVED him so very much, and the physical infirmities and
problems he had with his body and eyes, they never took notice
of. He tells them that they were so close to him at that time,
that they would have gladly plucked out their own eyes and given
them to him, if it had been possible (it would seem from this
that Paul had some eye infection or some kind of serious problem
with his eyes, when among the Galatians) (verses 12-15).
He says to them in essence, that he hopes he has not become their
enemy because he lays down the truth to them in a no none-sense
manner. He actually puts it as a question to them...."Have I
become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" (verse 16).
He tells them that he can see the false teachers are very zealous
in their cause, and that they also would seem to be zealous in
listening to them, and following them in their dictates, by the
way they were now living their daily lives, and in what they
believed to be the "gospel truth" - which Paul had just been
tearing to shreds, as a false gospel. He tells them that he is in
travail as a woman giving birth, over the state they seem to be
in, by heeding to the false teachers. He wanted to be with them,
and change the tone of his voice towards them, for as he told
them, he was now in doubt about their position with God. He told
them he would be in this travail of heart and mind until Christ
was once more the central part of their lives and mind.
From these words of Paul it can be safely assumed I believe, that
a large part of the work of these false apostles was that Jesus
Christ did not have to be a central part of their lives. As I
have stated before, the Galatians were being taught that Christ
was not needed in any real sense, to their justification with
God, but obeying all the Old Covenant, with circumcision, was
needed for justification (verses 17-20).
Now starting in verse 21, Paul does what he often does to prove
his point and dis-prove the wrong teachings, he quotes from the
Old Covenant or books of Moses. He goes back and relates to them
about Abraham once more. He brings out how Abraham had a son by a
bondwoman, after the working of the flesh, trying to bring about
the promise of God to him, his way, working it out for himself.
And he also had the son God promised him, from his freewoman
wife. Most of us are familiar with this account in the book of
Genesis. It is probable that his readers were quite familiar with
this part of Abraham's life, or at least they could easily look
it up and read it for themselves.
What I want you to note is verse 24 and the words, "WHICH THINGS
ARE AN ALLEGORY: FOR THESE ARE THE *** TWO COVENANTS***"
Ah, now do you see why I've stated that the book or letter of
Galatians is really about TWO COVENANTS. The OLD Covenant and the
Paul goes on to show that Christians, the seed of Abraham, the
children of God, those who are heirs of God through Christ, are
NOT UNDER the Old Covenant, but the New Covenant. The Old
Covenant and trying to obey it as a means to justification and
salvation is BONDAGE INDEED, it is working your own salvation by
the flesh so to speak, to earn your way into God's grace and
favor. And as we have seen Paul had said that such a way to be
justified was not only impossible, but it was never God's
intention for justification to Him in the first place.
Those who had let the Old Covenant LEAD them to CHRIST for
justification were under the New Covenant, which had always been
the way planned, which was the promise made to Abraham, that a
Godly Redeemer would come from heaven to earth, to be born of the
line of Abraham, and live and die for human kind, so they could
by grace through faith in Christ, be redeemed, be justified, be
Paul ends this section by telling them that just as the
bondwoman's son persecuted the freewoman's son (Ishmael against
Isaac), so it still was, that the children of bondage (the Old
Covenant, circumcision teachers to justification) were
persecuting and working against those of the New Covenant promise
of justification and salvation by grace through faith in Christ
as Redeemer (verses 25-30).
BARNES' NOTES ON THE NEW TESTAMENT:
CHAP.5:1-6 Stand fast therefore in the liberty ...
if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing ... For in
Christ Jesus neither circumcision availes anything, nor
uncircumcision; but faith which works by love.
'Stand fast therefore.'
Be firm and unwavering. This verse properly belongs to
previous chapter, and should not have been separated from it. The
sense is, that they were to be firm and unyielding in maintaining
the great principles of Christian liberty. They had been freed
from the bondage of rites and ceremonies; and they should by no
means, and in no form, yield to them again.
'In the liberty,' etc.
Comp. John 8:32; Rom.6:18. Notes, Gal.4:3-5.
'And be not entangled again.'
Tindal renders this, "And wrap not yourselves again." The
sense is, do not again allow such a yoke to be put on you; do not
again become slaves to any rites ...
'That if you be circumcised.'
This must be understood with reference to the subject under
consideration. If you are circumcised with such a view as is
maintained by the false teachers that have come among you; that
is, with an idea that it is necessary in order to your
justification. He evidently did not mean that if any of them had
been circumcised before their conversion to Christianity; nor
could he mean to say that circumcision, in all cases, amounted to
a rejection of Christianity, for he had himself procured the
circumcision of Timothy, Acts 16:3. If it was done, as it was
then, for prudential considerations, and with a wish not
unnecessarily to irritate the Jews, and to give one a more ready
access to them, it was not to be regarded as wrong. But if, as
the false teachers in Galatia claimed, as a thing ESSENTIAL to
salvation, as INDISPENSABLE to justification and acceptance with
God, then the matter assumed a different aspect; and then it
became, in fact, a renouncing of Christ himself sufficient to
save US. So with anything else...
'For I testify again.'
Probably he had stated this when he had preached the gospel
to them at first, and he now solemnly bears witness to the same
thing, again. Bloomfield, however, supposes that the word again
here means, on the other hand; or furthermore; or, as we would
say, "and again."
'That he is a debtor to do the whole law.'
He binds himself to obey all the law of Moses. Circumcision
was the distinguishing badge of the Jews, as baptism is of
Christians. A man, therefore, who became circumcised, became a
PROFESSOR OF THE JEWISH RELIGION, and bound himself to obey all
its peculiar laws. This must be understood, of course, with
reference to the point under discussion; and means, if he
did it WITH A VIEW TO justification, or as a thing that was
NECESSARY and BINDING. It would not apply to such a case as that
of Timothy, where it was a matter of mere expediency or
prudence. See Note on verse 2.
'Christ is become of no effect unto you.'
You will derive no advantage from Christ. His work in regard
to you is needless and vain. If you can be justified in any other
way than by him, then of course you do not need him, and your
adoption of the other mode is, in fact, a renunciation of him.
Tindal renders this, "Ye are gone quite from Christ." The word
here used (Barnes gives the Greek - Keith Hunt) means, properly,
to render inactive, idle, useless; to do away, to put an end to;
and here it means that they had withdrawn from Christ, if they
attempted to be justified by the law. They would not need him if
they could be thus justified; and they could derive no benefit
from him. A man who can be justified by his own obedience, does
not need the aid or the merit of another; and if it was true, as
they seemed to suppose, that they could be justified by the law,
it followed that the work of Christ was in vain so far as they
were concerned. 11
'Whosoever of you are justified by the law.'
On the supposition that any of you are justified by the
law; or if, as you seem to suppose, any are justified by the
law. The apostle does not say that this had in fact ever
occurred; but he merely makes a supposition. If such a thing
should or could occur, it would follow that you had fallen from
Its simple obvious meaning is, that it a man who had been a
professed Christian should be justified by his own conformity to
the law, and adopt that mode of justification, then that would
amount to a rejection of the mode of salvation by Christ, and
would he a renouncing of the plan of justification by grace....
Who are Christians. It is a characteristic of the true
'Through the Spirit.'
The Holy Spirit. We expect salvation only by his aid.
That is, we expect salvation in this way. The main idea is,
not that of waiting as if the thing were delayed; it is that of
expecting. The sense is, that true Christians have no other hope
of salvation than by faith in the Lord Jesus. It is not by their
own works, nor is it by any conformity to the law. The object of
Paul is to show them the true nature of the Christian hope of
eternal life, and to recall them from dependence on their
conformity to the law (as earning their justification and
salvation by laws of Moses obedience - Keith Hunt)
'The hope of righteousness.'
The hope of justification. They had no other hope of
justification than by faith in the Redeemer. See Note on
'For in Jesus Christ.'
In the religion which Christ came to establish.
It makes no difference whether a man is circumcised or not.
He is not saved because he is circumcised, nor is he condemned
because he is not. The design of Christianity is to abolish these
rites and ceremonies, and to introduce a way of salvation that
shall be applicable to all mankind alike. See Notes on chap.3:28;
1 Cor. 7:19. Comp. Rom.2:29.
'But faith which worketh by love.'
Faith that evinces its existence by love to God, and
benevolence to men. It is not a mere INTELLECTUAL belief; but it
is that which reaches the heart, controls the affections. It is
not a DEAD faith; but it is that which is operative ....
The true faith is that which is seen in benevolence, in love to
God, in love to all who bear the Christian name; in a readiness
to do good to all mankind. This shows that the heart is affected
by the faith that is held; and this is the nature and design of
all true religion. Tindal renders this, "faith, which by love is
mighty in operation." ....
End quotes from Albert Barnes
Now most of the modern world that have little or no background in
Judaism, are so far removed from it, and so far distant from the
time when Paul was writing this letter and other letters during
the first century A.D.the following may take most by surprise.
The IMPORTANCE of circumcision, among the Jews, ESPECIALLY two
thousand years ago during the first century A.D. CANNOT BE
UNDERESTIMATED. Circumcision was indeed a VITAL part of obeying
the Old Covenant in order to, and with a view to being JUSTIFIED
From the "ENCYCLOPEDIA JUDAICA" article "circumcision."
"Jewish circumcision originated, according to the biblical
account, with Abraham who, at divine behest, circumcised himself
at the age of 99. Genesis 17: 11-12 reads: 'Every male among you
shall be circumcised. And ye shall be circumcised in the flesh of
your foreskin, and it shall be a token of a covenant betwixt Me
and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised....'
The promise that Abraham's seed should inherit the land of Canaan
was bound up together with this covenant. The punishment for
failure to observe this command was karet, to be 'cut off' from
one's kind (ibid 21:4), understood by the Rabbis to mean
'excision at the hand of heaven from the community.'
This commandment is considered so important that the rabbis
declared (Shab.137b) that were it not for the BLOOD of the
covenant, heaven and earth would not exist ..... The custom of
circumcision seems to have spread among the Romans in the
Diaspora under the influence of the Jewish community in Rome.
Hadrian again proscribed it, and this was one of the causes of
the Bar Kokhba rebellion. When a Roman official asked R.Oshaya
why God had not made man as he wanted him, he replied that it was
in order that man should perfect himself by the fulfillment of a
divine command (Gen. R. 11:6) .... Should a child for any reason
have been circumcised before the eighth day or have been born
already circumcised (i.e. without a foreskin), the ceremony of
"shedding the blood of the covenant" (hattafa dam berit) must be
performed on the eighth day, provided it is a weekday and the
child is fit (263:4). This is done by puncturing the skin of the
glans with a scalpel or needle and allowing a drop of blood to
exude ..... Immediately after the actual circumcision the father
recites the benediction 'Who hast hallowed us by Thy commandments
and has commanded us to make our sons enter into the covenant of
Abraham our father.'.... The congregated guests reply 'Even as
this child has entered into the covenant so may he enter into the
Torah, the nuptial canopy, and into good deeds.'...."
From the "JEWISH ENCYCLOPEDIA" article on Circumcision:
"...According to Pirke R.Eliezer xxix, it was Shem who
circumcised Abraham and Ishmael on the Day of Atonement; and the
BLOOD of the covenant then shed is ever before Yahweh on that day
TO SERVE AS AN ATONING POWER...."
It is crucial for us to realize that one of the teachings of the
Jewish rabbis asserts that circumcision was the BLOOD of the
covenant, to serve as an ATONING POWER before God.
Do you comprehend the significance this could make spiritually?
Anyone who submits to circumcision "to seal the covenant" -
automatically rejects the Messiah's death and HIS BLOOD of
atonement on the tree of Calvary. According to rabbinical
teaching, at least way back in Paul's time, the blood of
circumcision acted as an atonement.
Paul emphatically declared that any new convert receiving
circumcision, as a means, and view to justification, had fallen
from grace. His contention resulted from the Rabbinical teaching
that the blood of circumcision will allow a man to atone for his
own sins. This rabbinic doctrine undermines the entire Biblical
teaching of a suffering Messiah.
Paul says that the ONLY BLOOD to confirm God's covenant is Jesus'
sacrifice, His death on the cross.
Ah, now we should be able to get the picture in focus, as to this
letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Galatia. Now we should be
able to see clearly why all the emphasis on "circumcision" in
parts of the New Testament, why there was this "theological
battle" going on between people like the apostle Paul and those
whom he was writing so STRONGLY AGAINST in the book of Galatians.
There were some moving around within the new "Christian"
communities that advocated full obedience to the Old Covenant,
and especially to physical circumcision, which was the atoning
blood of the Covenant, in order, or with a view, to
justification and to being saved, while they down-played the
blood sacrifice of Christ. Now we can understand Paul's shock and
strong words to the Galatians, when he found out that many of
them were listening to, and BELIEVING, those of the "circumcision
party" as they preached "their" theology for justification with
God, which was as Paul put it "another gospel, which is not
another; but there be some that trouble you, and would PERVERT
the gospel of Christ" (chapter 1:6-7) - Keith Hunt.
TO BE CONTINUED